Writers usually read a lot.
Favorite genres for me are murder mysteries and, oddly enough, biographies. Recent books range from Dorothea Tanning’s autobiography – Between Lives: An Artist and Her World — to the downright humorous look at death and dying recently written by Jonathan Barnes entitled Nothing To Be Frightened Of.
When I’m not nose down in a book, you can usually find me browsing through a favorite magazine like The Equine Journal, Practical Horseman, Mother Earth News, Advance Magazine for Nurses, Mother Jones News or Countryside. I have books and magazines in every room in my house, have a supply in the car for emergencies and keep a couple of each in my briefcase.
When I read, I sometimes feel guilty because I am not writing! I find it hard to rationalize sitting around enjoying someone else’s words while mine remain bottled up in my head. But a funny thought occurred to me over this long holiday weekend. Reading is really good for the writer’s mind!
When I read, I am learning about new topics and maybe even new words and ideas but I am also doing a whole lot of subconscious and symbiotic learning. Learning is occurring at a level below articulation. This is how children learn spelling and punctuation. Why should it be any different for adults who write? Why can’t we learn about characters and dialogue and plot this way?
The trick to getting the most out of those hours I spend away from my keyboard with, as my Mom used to say, “My nose buried in a book.” is to read consciously. If I find a chapter, paragraph or sentence I like I stop and try to work out why I like it. Is it the order of the chapter? Are the sentences growing and building and moving me to a new or different place? Am I learning more about the characters? Are the words that the author chose ringing true to the story and the characters? Why did I like it?
If I can pause long enough to figure that out, I might also figure out how what I learned could work for me in my writing. What’s good about learning to read for more than the story is that you can use this technique and learn, even from a bad book.
Give it a try. See what you can learn about writing from your favorite author. It’s also a great excuse for grabbing a book and a cup of tea and spending an afternoon just reading.